EMSA discovers SOx emission breaches using remotely piloted aircraft

EMSA discovers SOx emission breaches using remotely piloted aircraft
Image source: Nordic Unmanned

The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has found 27 vessels to be in possible breach of the IMO’s regulation on emissions of sulphur oxides (SOx) since it began monitoring ships’ emissions along the Strait of Gibraltar via remotely piloted aircraft in mid-July.

EMSA has been deploying remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) since July 12 this year to detect SOx emissions above a certain level indicating a possible breach of the International Convention on Maritime Pollution (MARPOL – Annex VI). The current limit for SOx in ship fuels is 0.5 per cent. The project has been designed to test the effectiveness of drones in measuring pollutant emissions from ocean-going vessels.

Current figures show that of 294 vessels controlled, some 27 were found in possible breach of the limits of sulphur content in their fuel. The measurements and records are automatically encoded in the information exchange system which triggers an alert in the EMSA THETIS-EU database. While this does not confirm non-compliance directly, it does help port authorities target ships for inspection and proceed with the lab testing necessary for any eventual sanctions.

The flights have been in operation since mid-July from a base in Tarifa and will continue until the end of October.  Two flights a day with an average of ten inspections per day have been conducted.

The aircraft used is a CAMCOPTER S100 and it is under contract to EMSA from the consortium of Nordic Unmanned, Norce and UMS Skeldar. It has several features making it a useful tool for the service, including the ability to take off and land vertically from an area less than 25 square meters, flight endurance of over six hours and a range of more than 100 km. To help detect the gases generated by fuel combustion and expelled through ship funnels, the aircraft is equipped with gas sensors and cameras that cover both optical and infrared spectral ranges.

The project was set up by the Spanish Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda (MITMA), in collaboration with the Algeciras Maritime Captaincy and the General Directorate of Merchant Marine. The project marks the first time these emissions have been monitored by drone outside the special designated emission control areas in Northern Europe.